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PRESS BRIEFING BY CHIEF, HUMANITARIAN EMERGENCY BRANCH, OFFICE FOR COORDINATION OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

15 March 2002

At a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon, a top United Nations Humanitarian Affairs officialtold corespondents that even as international relief agencies struggled to counteract the deepening humanitarian crisis in and around the Sudan, there were remarkable signs of hope, as aid workers were increasingly being granted access to conflict-ravaged areas which had been declared off-limits for years.

Kevin Kennedy, Chief of the Humanitarian Emergency Branch of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) praised an ongoing initiative led by the United States Government to expand humanitarian access within Sudan. The programme would yield immediate and unqualified results for hundreds of thousands of war-affected and displaced persons living in remote, mountainous areas. He hoped that as the initiative steadily evolved, relevant United Nations agencies could play an enhanced role in coordinating relief efforts throughout the country.

Mr. Kennedy was reporting today on the recent two-week visit of Tom Vraalsen, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs in the Sudan. From 5 to 12 March, Mr. Vraalsen visited Kenya as well as Sudan and met with parties to the ongoing conflict and Government representatives of both Kenya and Uganda. He also consulted with members of the donor community and representatives of various humanitarian agencies at meetings in Nairobi and Khartoum.

Mr. Vraalsen’s visit had come at a critical moment, he continued, recalling the series of attacks on civilians by the Sudanese Government during the month of February. In one particularly shocking incident that took place in Sudan’s Western Upper Nile region, 24 civilians had been killed. A major part of Mr. Vraalsen’s work in the country had been to ensure that corrective measures were taken so that such incidents would not occur again.

Mr. Kennedy said that the Special Envoy had also been able to meet with representatives of the United States initiative. Though not yet fully realized, the plan expected to bring aid to the desperate populations living in the Nubia Mountain region south-west of Khartoum. Mainly due to protracted fighting and hazardous terrain, international agencies had thus far been allowed only intermittent access to that region. Although controlled largely by Government forces, there was still a significant rebel presence in that region.

In response to a question, Mr. Kennedy said the people in the Nubia Mountain region suffered greatly from malnutrition and lack of access to basic human needs. Only over the last 60 days had steady access been granted. So while the OCHA representatives and the Special Envoy had been greeted with great enthusiasm, there had also been high expectations by the people there who could finally see past their desperate situation to the possibility of international assistance.

The initiative had been an outgrowth of an agreement forwarded to the Sudanese Government by United States Senator Danforth to establish a joint-military commission, which would deploy international observers in the region to

monitor the previously declared ceasefire, as well as humanitarian aid shipments to the people there. Mr. Kennedy said the Envoy had offered the support of relevant United Nations agencies to provide initial logistic support as well as staff on the ground to ensure that the monitoring aspects of the joint programme were linked to wider humanitarian initiatives.

Mr. Kennedy added that OCHA hoped to examine ways the United Nations agencies, their non-governmental organization partners, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) could expand their efforts in the region. He went on to say that each month, the United Nations joint agency programme “Lifeline Sudan” carried out hundreds of food flights throughout the country. Since much of the region was engulfed in conflict, regular discussions were held with all parties to determine where aid could be delivered. Out of the overall 230 requests, the number of “denied locations” had been reduced to about 30 areas. While OCHA very much regretted not being able to deliver aid to all areas, this was still a significant step forward.

He said another positive aspect of Mr. Vraalsen’s visit had been discussions surrounding the phase of the joint initiative aimed at ensuring declared “days of tranquillity” each month, when vaccinations and other health care needs of the people could be addressed. That phase would initially focus on polio and renderpest -– a bovine bacterial disease found only in south-eastern Sudan and in parts of Somalia.

Polio, he continued, was still a major problem in Sudan and for many years, humanitarian actors had been unable to deliver vaccines and treatment or conduct surveillance in many of the country’s hardest hit regions. During the Special Envoy’s visit, agreement had been reached to provide access to nearly all the regions of concern to OCHA. In areas where significant fighting was continuing, the aid agencies would have to proceed as the security situation allowed. Still, the Government’s initial agreement to the overall programme was a significant step forward.

Noting the Security Council’s public meeting on the protection of children in armed conflict held earlier this morning, Mr. Kennedy said a major thrust of the Danforth initiative as well as wider United Nations activities would be a renewed and intensified focus on that very issue. Recently, OCHA had reached an agreement with the Sudanese Government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement to establish a verification mission to look into allegations of violations of rights or killings of civilians in armed conflict. While the details had not yet been worked out, Mr. Kennedy announced that the basic agreement had been signed.

He said that Mr. Vraalsen had also been involved with ongoing consultations surrounding the activities of the Lords of Resistance Army in Eastern Central Sudan. A major concern was that over the years, that group had continuously abducted children during village raids to use in rebel attacks and other violent activities. It was thought that the group had perhaps taken several thousand children. But with increased military pressure, it was hoped that their release could be obtained and they would be turned over to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for appropriate care and treatment.

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